I’m not going to lie to you, between supporting my wife through some pretty intense work stuff and starting a new job myself, January has been a pretty busy month for me. So when I arrived promptly at my usual 19:34 and joined in with Rosie’s warm up at the back of the church, it did take me a minute to clock the ginormous cake at the front of the church and realise what it must represent. Four years of Songbirds choir! Continue reading Happy 4th Birthday Songbirds!
Touching greatness in 2015…
Hailing from Winchester, Rozi Plain seems to be popping up all over the place at the moment. (If you correctly interpret ‘all over the place’ as ‘all over the Radio 6 playlists’…)
The latest of her records ‘Friend’ was written while she was living on a boat – a fact which is reflected in its unhurried flow and in one or two disctinctly watery lines.
She also plays with This Is the Kit.
2015 album: ‘Friend’
Listen to this: when you’re feeling philosophical and just a little bit wise.
‘It will be reported to be
a difficult year,
a tumultous year…’ (‘Actually’)
‘It is known that it changed
it had just been rearranged
so the bad and sort of okay
is weighted differently
Julia Nunes gained something of a cult following for her YouTube renditions of pop songs, layering sound and video in order to play ALL THE PARTS. However, she is also a mighty fine songwriter.
She is dating Dannielle Owens-Reid of Everyoneisgay.com fame. #FanGirlFacts
2015 album: ‘Some Feelings’
Listen to this: when you’ve started to knit the pieces of your broken heart back together and you’re feeling pretty good about it.
‘I want to make so many mistakes
that you’re lowest on the list
I want to make mistakes
and I want you to hear about it…’ (‘Something Bad’)
‘Had I known when I was deciding
that I would feel it
in every empty shelf
I may have stopped myself…’ (‘I Don’t Want to’)
…is my favourite find of the last six months. She is just this fantastically exciting combination of classic storytelling and subtle twists of phrase. She makes me want to pick up my guitar and write ten songs in a row.
Samantha Crain is from Shawnee, Oklahoma, and she’ll appeal to country music fans, words people and anyone who enjoys full rich vocals.
2015 album: ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree
Listen to this: when you’re looking for something rich but tender.
‘My neighbour died on Sunday
35 years old.
Never asked for sugar.
Never said hello…’ (‘You or Mystery’)
‘I know I you broke it,
but I’ve got spare parts.
When you come back
would you bring my heart.’ (‘When You Come Back’)
Keep your ears peeled for these in 2016…
Lucius are a super-hip five piece from Brooklyn, New York.
Clever, clever writing with full arrangements that drape themselves around the closely harmonised dual vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig.
‘Wildewoman’ (2013) was amazing and I am very excited about this year’s offering…
2016 album: ‘Good Grief’ – due out on the 11th March.
Has been a great lyrical love of mine for many years! In my first year of university I listened to ‘These Pages’ on repeat for a week, then wrote my first proper song. (For ‘proper’ read ‘not terrible/excruciating/teenage’).
Sexy americana cool with heartfeels and a handsome wry smile.
2016 album: ‘Back in the Ring’ – due out on the 1st of April.
Feeling musical now?
Excellent – why not come along to a Songbirds rehearsal?
Every Wednesday at 7.30pm, City URC on Windsor Place, Cardiff.
Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* women.
As we nestle in these last few peaceful moments before we thrust ourselves back into our usual routines and take on the bluster of January, I find myself reflecting on the many activities of the last month.
This Christmas it was our pleasure to make a return visit to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s (LGCM) Christmas Carol Service. It provided a lovely opportunity for us to share the stage with the boys at SWGMC and to support the good people of City United Reformed Church and The Gathering. City URC have been fantastic in supporting us on our journey thus far and we continue to be deeply grateful for the use of their beautiful church as the base for our weekly rehearsals. The service was lively yet thought provoking with a number of deft changes of pace between the celebratory boom of carols like the ’12 Days of Christmas’ and quieter reflections from guest speakers on what it means to truly stop and observe Christmas. Particularly poignant were the speeches made by representatives of Displaced People in Action (DPIA), a charity which works with refugees and asylum seekers and who are looking to set up a coffee morning for LGBT* refugees and asylum seekers who may be struggling to find community for many reasons.
On the 14th of December we played host to our own Christmas Concert ‘Sing Noel! With Songbirds Choir’. In spite of the enthusiastic attempts of this year’s triumphant cold virus to flatten our forces, we pulled through as a choir and managed to deliver a buoyant and joyful performance at Jolyons. It was fantastic to sing to a full room and I get the distinct impression that the audience enjoyed it as much as we did! There’s something about a pinch of adversity that brings this flock together and I think the light and strength of our bonds as a community (which doesn’t take itself too seriously…) shone through.
On the 19th we popped up to the second floor of John Lewis on the Hayes to entertain the milling masses with our own brand of festive fun. It was something of a departure from the focused beam of audience attention that we have experienced at our previous gigs as our listeners made their way around the shop to our dulcet chorus, but it was evident from the smiles (and from our own sofa-based family of impromptu supporters) that we were able to add something special to the atmosphere.
At the end of the month we paid a visit to De Courcey’s Manor to sing at our second wedding gig of the year. This was great fun despite the many and varied logistical challenges of getting ourselves back to Cardiff for the 27th. (Thank you to our pianist Rich for rescuing our Musical Director from Newport…). And yes, the bride looked beautiful.
In a way the season saw us come full circle – returning to Jolyons and ending the year by fulfilling the gig we booked in June (or maybe May?) after we were spotted singing at the wedding reception for two of our own ‘Birds. By my watch that makes it the perfect moment to heed the words of my beloved late mentor MG – ‘Respice Prospice’ (Look back, but also look forwards).
And so we launch into 2016 buoyed by the successes of the last year and lifted by the hope of all that is still to come for our community.
Our first stop – finding some more of us!
To this end – on Wednesday the 6th of January we will be holding a New Members session, and you are very welcome to join us.
7.30pm at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.
No auditions. Just community and choir fun.
– Jan 2016
Songbirds Choir is a Cardiff-based non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans* women.
Dearest all and sundry,
I am delighted to declare that us ‘Birds will be flocking together to raise a festive chorus on Monday the 14th of December at Jolyons on Cathedral Road, Cardiff.
The concert begins at 7pm and tickets can be purchased for the meager sum of £6 (Concessions £4).
There will be carols, mince pies, and lots of women in sleek black attire.
As you can imagine, tickets are a hot commodity, so please email email@example.com with haste to reserve your tickets.
Hope to see you there!
FB Event – HERE
After a previous weekend away several years ago, it was decided that we would go away again as a choir. Having been on the previous trip I was very much looking forward to a weekend staying in the fabulous Holt Farm in rural Herefordshire. The farm is very well-suited for our purposes with a large barn for rehearsal and social space, as well as accommodation for over 20 enthusiastic birdies! To top that it is located in a beautiful area of the country with views of the rolling hills and valleys, as well as the occasional badger for company.
We headed up through Friday and were all settled in time for dinner. Replete with our bellies full of delicious chilli (even if I do say so myself), we kicked off the weekend with a nice sit down and a film. For a choir, I don’t think there’s a more acca-awesome choice than Pitch Perfect… and it wasn’t just those who already knew the film who were singing along before the end!
Saturday dawned bright and somewhat breezy, which several early birds took advantage of by heading out onto the ‘lesbian highway’ for a run, while others got the customary bacon sandwiches / tofu scramble going.
After breakfast we started the choir practice in earnest with sectionals and it was great for us to have time as separate sections to work with Rosie on areas that we find more challenging – and allowed us to really focus our attention as a group. We then went into a whole choir rehearsal and spent some much-needed time working on our Welsh pronunciation with support from those who siarad Cymraeg.
We were lucky enough to have a visiting massage therapist – a lovely surprise and treat! Everyone had the opportunity to have a short treatment during the day, and from hearing what others including myself thought, I’m sure there will be some birdy bookings for Francesca.
Next on the menu was lunch, followed by another rehearsal where we covered some up-beat Christmas songs including everyone’s favourite from a Muppet Christmas carol, as well as one for any resident Kelly Clarkson fans. Later in the afternoon Rosie ran a workshop on conducting, giving each choir member the opportunity to conduct the choir. Most people had not experienced this before and it was really interesting in terms of giving us all the perspective of how it feels to conduct a group of people, but also how well we responded as a choir to each other’s interpretations of the songs – well done everyone for really joining in!
With the wind and rain picking up outside, it was a lovely warming curry for dinner which was just what we needed to pick us up after a day of working hard on our singing! Finally, Saturday evening entertainment: cabaret. Or for me, just a normal evening; having Amo (everyone’s favourite exhibitionist) organise this meant that somehow Amo ended up performing five times. Mysterious that everyone approached to perform somehow managed to somehow end up with a guitar-based accompaniment…
However, I certainly wouldn’t have considered performing on my own and having a willing accomplice meant that some more reserved people including myself were able to give it a go. The Cabaret (a.k.a. The Amo Show) was kicked off with a beautiful and soulful cover of ‘Perfect Day’ by Laura feat. Amo, with Selena, Lucy, Sunny and of course our Chief Owl Rosie also all taking a turn to sing. Turning the tempo up a notch was Eve who showed us her flamenco talents, before Julia, concluding the evening’s organised entertainments, took to the floor and channelled the very spirit of Tina Turner. With audience participation at a high level from the excitement of the cabaret, it wasn’t surprising that some dancing, singing and inevitable Kate Bush impersonations followed. While a select few decided to sample the famous Holt Farm hot-tubs, the more sensible among us stayed to polish the evening off with a cup of tea.
After a rather blustery and late night, even with a start that was a tad later than that of Saturday, the less that is said of the ‘hangover rehearsal’ the better really… We had a relaxed lunch and a few people stretched their legs checking out the view from the top of the ridge. Others had one-to-one singing lessions with Rosie before reconvening for the final rehearsal of the weekend where we covered some traditional Christmas songs to get us ready for the festive season. We rounded off the day with some board-games, a jigsaw and a roast dinner (followed by a generous serving of apple crumble and custard) and finished the weekend off with a few renditions of our favourite lesbian classics (Joan Armatrading anybody?). The perfect ending to a lovely weekend!
Kate Bodd, November 2015
When my mother taught me to sing she gave me a headful of songs. She passed me down a dozen or so of her favourites, each one learned by singing and repeating back. I remember lying in our campervan carefully receiving verse and chorus and committing it to memory.
‘…If I had the riches/Of the East or West Indies/If I had the Gold of the African shore./If I could gain thousands/I’d lie on your bosom./You’d be my greenwood laddie/The boy I’d adore…’
At first I was only able to follow her, joining in and being carried along by the strength of her contralto. And each week we’d amuse the denizens of the folk club with a new outrageous song. My mother was anxious that the rest of the group shouldn’t feel the need to censor themselves in their choice of songs on my (eight year old) account and so she devised that we should sing at least one rude song each week, just to make them comfortable. So dutifully, I learned to reel off ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, ‘Maids When You’re Young’, ‘Firelock Stile’ etc. with great enthusiasm.
‘So come all young men, come listen awhile,/I’ll tell you what happened at Firelock Stile,/When a stump of a nail catched hold of her clothes/She fell down, and did expose…’
As I grew older I realised the importance of listening to the voices around you and learned to find the harmonies, those sweet places to lay down a variation on the lead voice and add texture and an extra depth the body of the sound. And so I learned to harmonise with my mum, practising in our living room by holding hands and sending our voices up together, interweaving and entwining around the pattern of a careworn song.
‘…So far doe-ray-me/Sing to me loudly,/Serenade me,/Mess with the melody./Light and shade/All my eyes can see…’
Since leaving home I don’t sing with my mother so often, but when I do I’m always heartened by the ease with which our voices slide together, as I lean in to add my complement to her song; a comfortable return to a long tradition.
Yet, as is the way of things, new traditions spring up only a step or two away from the older root and now I find myself singing more and more with my partner. It’s a natural but entirely different fit as I place my lower voice beneath hers to give support and add weight to our sound. And while we don’t perform as a duo, we are often singing our way through the world, passing the time as we walk home or out to meet our friends.
It occurs to me that the union of voices is a symbolic representation of the meeting of our spirits, an ephemeral emblem of the ways in which we complement each other in our personalities, and a deeply personal connection.
This is possibly a source of our strength as a community choir. Although we rehearse in a friendly and supportive environment, to add your voice to the greater sound is to give something of yourself. Yet we give and receive in equal measure, as we accept the trust of the women who sit around us, hearing their voices and giving our response. Is it any wonder that the bonds we build are strong ones?
– Amo Rex, Oct 2015
Songbirds Choir meets at 7.30 every Wednesday at City United Reform Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
Growing up in a small town in the Valleys in the 70s was not the most conducive environment to come out (think of the film ‘Pride’ but a few years earlier!). The only visible role models were comedic and the likes of Danny La Rue and Dick Emery with, what seemed to me, no discussion of context or the issues involved, just sniggers. So despite having strong feelings towards women and female friends, knowing in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t just crushes, I didn’t. I didn’t share my thoughts with anyone, my parents being fairly ‘old school’ and dealing with my brother’s mental health issues at the time, I think subconsciously I didn’t want to burden them further. I genuinely didn’t know what the consequences of coming out would be, and it was fairly terrifying, and something I took forward for years. This was allied to a fear of losing friends and being further alienated.
Being a tomboy and not having originally been from the area, I stood out and was bullied at school. I changed schools at 14 and boarded in an all-girls school, potentially the perfect environment to come out. Not. In hindsight, I think had in stayed at my old school I may have come out in my teens – already being a bit of an outsider I may eventually thought “sod it”. Although I was much happier in my new school I think that being at an all-girls school actually made it harder to come out, especially as a boarder. Although I had strong friendships, many still so to this day, there was still the fear of rejection and uncertainty and I would have felt uncomfortable for the other girls in my dorm had I come out. I continued to ‘blank out’ my feelings and was quite shy as a result.
After school came uni in London, a fantastic opportunity and I fell in love, fairly quickly…with a guy. My first serious relationship. It was love, but perhaps we were propelled together as we were both fairly shy and lost in the big city. So, in time we married and have two great kids, but all the while I harboured feelings for other women, although I repressed these, and was not a happy bunny, maybe hoping for some romantic encounter over tea and cake at the NCT coffee morning! I did have a few brief semi-platonic affairs with guys, which in hindsight was probably me trying to find myself. I actually came out to my (at the time of writing, soon to be not) husband about 10 years ago and to a good friend, but I guess we never properly discussed the implications or my feelings, or indeed his, and muddled along “for the good of the children”. As time crept on I became increasingly disenchanted with life and gave up my career as I felt that something needed to give, the choice, I felt, being career or marriage (der!) but things still weren’t right and I was growing increasing disenchanted and unhappy and realised I had to resolve things.
Then I had a brief affair with a woman and although we weren’t together very long it was enough for me to realise that I couldn’t ignore myself any more and I had to be honest with myself and others. She was very kind, and a catalyst for me, for which I thank her. At that point I decided to move out of the family home. A hard decision as I couldn’t afford to move anywhere where the children could be with me, but I felt I had to take visible action and a positive step. I wasn’t far and managed to see the kids regularly. However, financial constraints and other factors resulted in me moving back into the family home after two years, but living separately. That has been a little more long term than intended and awkward at times but will resolve shortly and life will become more relaxed for everyone.
My friends have been very accepting and supportive throughout, some saying they were not surprised, others not quite understanding how I can have been married, had kids and be gay. I think that this is a common thread for many people, and also has implications for how lesbians previously in a relationship with a guy are perceived, sometimes regarded as ‘’not proper lesbians’’. Pahh!!! Since coming out I have realised just how many older lesbians there are who have very similar stories to mine. Being completely honest means that I know who I am, no one can hold any power over me and I am so much more confident as a result. As far as I am aware only one friend has blanked me, but possibly because they were a friend of my husband’s initially, who knows, but it’s surprising how people who seem so generous and broad minded can close down. The upshot is that most don’t and many will surprise you.
To my shame I didn’t pluck up the courage to tell the kids the actual reason why I’d moved out for about a year afterwards. My son (now late teens), was and is pretty cool with it, though my daughter is a different kettle of fish. She’s becoming more accepting, but I guess because it’s her mum maybe she feels a little more uncertain about her own sexuality, which is in no way a criticism of her. Sometimes I do think her offhand attitude is just because she’s a 16 year old girl. I just hope that she learns to talk about her feelings a little more freely, not necessarily with me but someone, as talking about things and sharing how you feel, what you think, etc. really helps to crystalise your thoughts and provide insight and clarity, however difficult or painful that may be.
Coming out has been difficult, but overwhelmingly been a good and positive experience. To really accept myself for me, to know who I am, has made me a much more confident and happier person. It really was a weight off my shoulders. If anyone says ’how do you know’ you’re gay/straight/bi/trans/whatever, you just know. How do people ‘know’ they’re straight? For me, being in relationships with women has been so very different to any other relationship. It’s just ‘right’ and the emotional connection is definitely much, much stronger and can be overwhelming. I do feel that I am able to empathise with people (whoever they are) much more now because I have experienced emotions that previously were unknown to me or repressed.
There are still issues, not least untangling a 30 year relationship, finances, and supporting the kids emotionally but even my parent’s in law seem to accept it (enough) now. Being outed to them is a story for another time! If anyone ever has any doubts about coming out, the fear is debilitating, but the relief of coming out is empowering. There will inevitably be fall-out and consequences, but life is short and unless you know who you are you can’t live it to your full potential. You will always find people who’ve been through similar problems (whatever those problems are and whether they’re gay, straight, trans. etc.) and finding a supportive group is an enormous boost whatever stage of life or coming out you are at. That’s what I’ve found with the Songbirds. A strong family where everyone is welcomed, no one is judged, everyone and every contribution is valued, each with a different story to tell, as unique as the individual but equally valid and accepted.
Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at City United Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
Trigger Warning: mention of sexual violence towards women.
In a break from the usual menu of loud music and the sounds of celebration, the ears of the Cardiff nightlife last night were filled with the chants of feminists and pro-feminist allies.
The last week has seen three sexual attacks against women in their early twenties, coinciding with the arrival of large numbers of new students in Cardiff. All three attacks have taken place in the early hours of the morning and have been focussed around Cardiff University’s central buildings and the Cathays area of Cardiff which is largely populated by students.
In response to this spate of attacks against women in Cardiff, local feminists organised an emergency Reclaim The Night march to give visibility to the message that violence against women and the victim blaming which perpetuates rape culture are not and have never been acceptable.
Protesters gathered at the Aneurin Bevan statue on Queen Street before setting off to march through the streets of Cardiff. With dazzling irony the predominantly female group was then immediately herded by male police officers and funnelled along a ‘safe’ route which largely avoided the busy areas of town, focussing instead on King Edward VII Avenue and Park Place. Police officers then instructed the march that the agreed finish point for the ‘procession’ was Gorsedd gardens. In a display of unity, the group responded to the rallying cry of ‘Whose streets?’ with a decisive ‘OUR STREETS’, progressing the march back towards the centre of town along the seething Greyfriars Road. This was arguably the most effective section of the march as throngs of students and revellers queuing outside venues looked on, taking in the banners and vocal feminist presence.
While Reclaim The Night marches are unlikely to stop the perpetrators of rape, the hope is that displays of resistance like this one will demonstrate support for the opposition of rape culture. The hope is to raise the confidence of individuals to speak up against the misogynistic language and behaviour which normalises and perpetuates sexual violence against women.
However, as activist and founder of Harmony Campaign, Emily Cottrell explained to the march – ‘While Reclaim The Night is important, this is a reaction not a solution to the problem of sexual violence.’
A member of Songbirds Choir, Emily set up Harmony Campaign in order to work towards her vision – ‘a society in which everyone is taught the value of consent, so that all sexual encounters and relationships are equal, safe and consensual, and rape and sexual assault are eradicated at the source.’
Emily took the time to explain a bit about the origins of the project and where it is headed –
What motivated you to set up Harmony Campaign?
I was motivated to set up the Harmony Campaign after I had a slightly nasty experience whilst very drunk. I realised that so often in the consent debate, there seem to be grey areas but there absolutely shouldn’t be – people should know exactly what constitutes consent. But children aren’t taught in school about respecting each other’s boundaries. Consent is not on the curriculum in Wales. Too many people reach university age still not knowing what consent really is – it’s so much more than just ‘no means no’ – and by this point it is far too late.
What would you like to achieve with the project?
I envisage a world where, from a young age, children are taught about consent – not sexual consent to begin with, of course, but respecting bodily autonomy, asking permission, listening to others, etc. I also think that it’s incredibly important to inform young people of the laws surrounding consent, and what can happen to them (prison, the sex offender’s register, etc.) if they don’t comply. This really isn’t a simple thing to achieve. We need to undo the work of centuries, of a society where men are taught that they are entitled to women’s bodies and too much is seen as ‘blurred lines’.
How do you intend to take those aims forward?
Education is the most important factor, so my future plans currently include: Campaigning for changes in the curriculum, providing workshops and poster campaigns in schools, youth clubs and universities, teaching teachers how to deal with consent issues. Offering a source of information and advice through the website and a helpline I would also like to run more practical action on the ground, such as providing free transport for women at night.
What do you think our response should be to the latest spate of sexual attacks in Cardiff?
We need to react quickly and loudly to the recent spate of sexual attacks in Cardiff. The Reclaim the Night march was a perfect way to demonstrate that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It is very important that we promote personal safety without victim-blaming but reactive responses such as Dragon Taxis offering their deal with Cardiff University are important.
What would your advice to students be?
My response to students is this: look after each other. Girls, make sure you have all your friends’ phone numbers and never leave a venue without checking you have everyone with you. Check your phone regularly to see if anyone has called you. Look after your drunk friends and take them home if they’re too drunk. And boys, never forget that in the eyes of the law, any sex with a drunk girl is rape – for the sake of one night, don’t risk it.
In spite of our varied experiences and whether or not we identify as feminists on an individual level, as a choir of Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* women operating as a women only group we can only be support of Reclaim The Night organiser Kate Blower’s statement that, ‘Women shouldn’t have to live lives where their movements in public spaces are restricted.’ Songbirds Choir continues to rehease and perform unapologetically as members of the LGBT* community, but also as women.
– Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at United City Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
In the early 1990’s being gay was becoming more acceptable, but being gay with a child on the way was somewhat unheard of. Planning, energy, and time were of paramount importance and sharing these responsibilities with a small group of close friends was uplifting.
Having started a new job, the awkward conversations which ensued about having time off for my partner to give birth to our much wanted baby girl were hair-raising at best. My immediate (heterosexual) manager was extremely supportive. However the Head of the Service (also Gay and ‘semi out’) was less than supportive – disappointing to say the least. Parental leave, as it stood, was non-existent. For me anyway, I was reliant on Annual leave and fingers crossed that the big day came in a timely manner! (which it did).
Parenting was largely good. There was no manual on ‘how to do it the right way’, so we stumbled, laughed, faltered, and (I think) came up trumps over the next 18 years.
When Alex started school we researched the best schools to send her to, and moved to Gwaelod y Garth (a small village) 6 miles from the big city, where she started her education. The Headmaster assured us that he didn’t tolerate bullying (‘Ha!’ I thought, ‘such lip service!’). However, when she was 7, she did experience some throw away comments like – ‘How many Mums have you got?’, ‘you’re gay!’ Luckily her little band of 7 year old friends declared that – ‘Alex was in trouble, and needed our help!’. The Headmaster, along with the fearsome band of 7 year olds, swept into action and the problem was swiftly dealt with, never to occur again! This was heart-warming, and she still has these friends today.
We never really had any further problems (that we know of) and Alex has grown up to be a lovely, kind, intelligent, caring, well-balanced, beautiful 23 year old. So too does her 2 year old rowdy boy, appear to be following in her footsteps. Take heart all you struggling parents (and parents to be) out there!
AND: Now to my choir kids (you know who you are). Well what can I say? A beautiful, clever, thought-provoking bunch of girls, who often make me ask myself – was I that mature at 24? I think not! The love, friendship, kindness, cooking skills, and learning that I have gained from you kids is immense, and I thank you for this enriching experience, and my status. [NB. I think I’d like to be known as Mumma from now on. lol.]
In fact the whole of my choir bunch of pals, 20-50 somethings, have completely enriched my life…and I can only thank you all for this… Special thanks to Laura May, who said about my struggles with this piece – ‘Just write!’ Onwards and upwards to the Mighty band of SONGBIRDS!
– Songbirds Choir meets 7.30pm every Wednesday at United City Reformed Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.
Dear Cath (for that is what you will be called until aged 28 when people finally start calling you Catherine),
By now, you will already know that people sometimes mistrust your sexuality. Not that long ago you will have revealed some feelings for girls to your work friends. Because you’ve had a boyfriend previously, they will have assumed you are just being an attention seeker. They will have responded by getting a (straight) woman friend to phone you up in work to ask you out, for a joke. They will have found your reactions to this highly amusing. They won’t have understood that, to you as a young woman trying to come to terms with yourself, it was excruciating. Try to remember that their cruelty wasn’t intentional; because you weren’t capable of articulating yourself to them, they didn’t know better. Don’t worry; you’ll improve at talking about this over time. (Although, if you’re hoping you’ll grow into a quiet, tactful person, forget it; you’ll always be opinionated, and you’ll put your feet in your mouth so often you might as well just keep your socks there.)
You’ll also probably be beating yourself up about now because you fooled around with a boy and not long after slept with a girl and this freaked you out a bit. Try not to be too hard on yourself, you’ll come to realise it wasn’t to do with them as people, but everything to do with how much it made you feel, and how overwhelming that was when you’re still not sure how to describe yourself. It will be a long time before you come across any positive representations of other bi women, so it’s not at all strange that you feel conflicted right now about being bi. I promise you, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to have a trusting and fulfilling relationship with someone (read on, honey).
You’ve got a lot of interesting things ahead of you. Next year you’ll go to Uni. You’ll start to see real representations of women in history, literature, politics, for the first time. You’ll realise you’re a feminist, and will pledge to yourself that you won’t ever be with someone who isn’t. (You’ll keep that promise, by the way). You will fall in love with a woman and get your heart broken. (Time for a plea: immediately after said heartbreak isn’t the best time to experiment with a one-night stand, so if you could see fit to avoid that, adult me would be very happy to scrub that particular awful experience from memory.) You will also have a couple of short-term relationships with men. At various points, you will wonder if you’re gay or straight because of the assumptions other people make based on the gender of your partner. Do your best to try to hold on to yourself through it all, even though it will feel almost impossible sometimes.
When you’re almost 23, you will start dating a man you meet in work. It will take you some time to be completely honest about yourself, but he will make it easier to do so. He will react honourably and respectfully when propositioned by a man on a night out (he’s straight). He will introduce you to the novels of Sarah Waters. He will describe himself as a feminist before you say it. He will buy you tickets to see Jeanette Winterson at Hay and won’t care that you are so embarrassingly eroticised by her performance that you still can’t actually talk when you get to the front of the book-signing queue (hey, don’t judge me until you’re there hearing her read, okay). He will treat you with kindness, sincerity and caring. When you finally admit you’re bi, he will be the first person you encounter who doesn’t question if you’re confused or going through a phase or attracted to everyone or fundamentally untrustworthy. Because of all these things and more you will marry him.
You will go through some times where you feel you’ve lost touch with the LGBT+ community. A big part of this will be because your friends assume you’ve chosen to be straight by marrying a man. They will say you ‘pass’ as straight. This will at once both hurt you and make you feel guilty about not having the same everyday challenges same-sex couples have. You will continue to support LGBT+ rights, but it will bother you to feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Living an ostensibly straight life will feel disingenuous because, even though you will have chosen to be monogamous, you will still have feelings of sexual and emotional desire for other men and women.
But I’m writing to you now (aged 40) because I want you to know those feelings get better, that nowadays I don’t feel that way so much anymore. It’s a little early on, but I think I might have found “the ones”; a big, beautiful, sometimes wonderful, sometimes dysfunctional, but always awesome extended LGBT+ family; my choir family, my ‘Songbirds’. I hope it works out with us because it will feel amazing to have a family I don’t constantly have to explain fundamental things to when I want to talk about my romantic and sexual feelings. All I have to do now is tell them that I’m happily in love with a man and hope they accept me… cross your fingers for me, dear Cath.
Sincerely, your future self,
[Image above: “Briefoeffner mit kuvert und hand fcm” by Photograph: Frank C. Müller, Baden-Baden – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons]